Viruses, Deforestation and Wildlife Trade, what do these have in common?
By Marina Robb, Founding Director of Circle of Life Rediscovery
Among the barrage of news around Covid 19, I finally succumbed to listening once again to the BBC News. An almost unnoticed comment has left me shocked – again.
A scientist briefly commented that there is a direct link to the Wild Life Trade, Deforestation and the increase in the spread and likelihood of viruses into the human population. Covid 19 is just one example.
We are in this situation because of our treatment of animals and our ancient forests.
I had to let this fleeting interview land in me. I had to repeat it to all my children and husband. I feel a little stupid too. My anger and exasperation covering my grief. Why isn’t this one of the big conversations – how we treat the non-human world.
In 1989 I was joint-coordinator for Friends of the Earth Rainforest Group in Manchester – a lively 19 year old who began to fight for the Rainforests. At that point ‘the fight’ was all we understood and whist it made a difference, we hadn’t yet really begun own personal work – our own anger projected onto the world.
To this day we continue to relentlessly fell these ancient systems – and this is happening all around the Earth. The 1992 Earth Summit was a hopeful moment for us. Agenda 21 and local initiatives. I know as a 51 year old now, that real change takes time. There have been changes – care for nature is no longer alternative, yet we are still operating together like parasites.
Today is World Environment Day and whilst I will celebrate the incredible beauty and generosity of the Earth I am deeply saddened and shocked that our human systems do not yet work alongside the Natural systems.
Our own life is indebted to this Natural world. It is so incredibly basic, that children totally understand this necessary cooperation between humans and the non-humans and the consequences of breaking this sacred alliance.
Yet I still found myself shocked at the BBC comment in the news last week.
What is this link to this current COVID reality? Between 1990 and 2016 – that’s 26 years (half my life time) we have lost Forest’s the size of South Africa – that’s 5 Uk’s in 26 years – from all over the world – Nigeria, Indonesia, Amazon.
You may hear about the effects of deforestation – soil erosion & nutrients, water cycle – the heating of water, loss of biodiversity, climate change. This can all feel very far away in a country like England. With Covid, many more people are dying, with a huge increase in people starving – the thread to our lives here has got our attention. But do we understand why viruses are on the increase?
Deforestation is leading to more infectious diseases in humans: As land is burned to make way for agriculture – our meat and veg – the trees for example, stop producing fruit and bats have to fly elsewhere – they have no option but to leave their home nibbling fruit near human populations, where domesticated animals also feed. In 1999 the Nipah virus in Malaysia caused severe brain inflammation and people died – this Virus didn’t spread too much.
The science shows that deforestation triggers a complex set of deadly conditions – Lassa Viruses, parasites that cause Malaria and Lyme disease, Corona viruses – that spread to humans.
“It’s pretty well established that deforestation can be a strong driver of infectious disease transmission,” says Andy MacDonald, a disease ecologist at the Earth Research Institute of the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It’s a numbers game: The more we degrade and clear forest habitats, the more likely it is that we’re going to find ourselves in these situations where epidemics of infectious diseases occur.”
As the forests are destroyed, so there is an increase in deadly viruses and parasites (10% per year). 60% of the new infectious diseases that emerge in people – HIV, Ebola, Nipah and now Corona all originated in forest-swelling animals and are transmitted by other wildlife. Humans can unknowingly host the diseases as we know with Covid 19.
What if we invested in and protected our Forests – we would save millions in freely gaining from greater health, and less need for vaccines etc (let alone all the other benefits).
Bats are thought to also host Corona Virus – and it seems that the virus was transmitted to humans. Remember please that bats play a major role in pollinating fruit trees – so please don’t think to ‘kill the enemy’. Bats are hunted for food in low income populations and used in traditional medicine.
The Guardian reported the human impact on wildlife to blame for the spread of viruses. See the article here.
Separately, more than 200 of the world’s wildlife groups have written to the World Health Organization (WHO) calling on it to recommend to countries a highly precautionary approach to the multi-billion dollar wildlife trade, and a permanent ban on all live wildlife markets and the use of wildlife in traditional medicine.
You can read the letter here.
Human health is linked to animal health and land health – you don’t need to be a scientist to know this.
The organisations argue that zoonotic diseases are responsible for over 2 billion cases of human illness and over 2 million human deaths each year, including from Ebola, Mers, HIV, bovine tuberculosis, rabies, and leptospirosis.
The commercial trade in wildlife is horrific. Look up some pictures and footage. It’s horrific. We are all implicated – it’s not just happening over there. The risks are increased by the conditions in which the animals are farmed or collected from the wild and transported, sold etc. The use in traditional medicine too – strange for me as in my experience most traditional medicine is from plants and I can only assume using wildlife is a dysfunctional damaged modern development.
And what of the illegal trade of wildlife. The UK National Wildlife Crime Unit has a tiny budget to deal with a criminal industry worth billions of pounds that damages local communities and regeneration opportunities particularly in Africa. You can add your name to the ‘Care2IFAWpetition’, ‘Step up Against Wildlife Cybercrime’.
For us here at Circle of Life Rediscovery, a community interest company – we want to help transform education and health through nature. To rediscover this love and appreciation of the complexity of nature and humans evolution together – a cooperative journey of co-participation.
We have every possibility to change and bring our economic, social, education and health systems in line with natural law. We can redirect our funds and thinking towards this child-like world understanding that we are part of this wonderful living earth and rediscover our ecological identity.
Common Ground Interview with Professor Jan White
To this end, I will be interviewing Jan White as part of our Common Ground series – please come and join us for Free!
What is ecological identity and attachment? Jan White and Marina Robb discuss:
- What do we mean by ecological identity?
- What kind of play drives can be met by nature to deepen the relationship?
- How attachment theory can be applied, physiological processes that operate as nature meets the play drive that expresses a deep psychological need.
Professor Jan White works as an independent consultant across the UK and internationally, Jan is a leading thinker and writer on outdoor play and advocate for high quality outdoor provision for services for children from birth to seven. She is honorary Professor of Practice with the University of Wales Trinity St David and co-founder/ strategic director of Early Childhood Outdoors, the National Centre for Play, Learning and Wellbeing Outdoors.
With thirty-five years’ experience in education, Jan has developed a deep commitment to the consistently powerful effect of the outdoors on young children. READ MORE.
Transforming education, health and family through nature.
Circle of Life Rediscovery provides exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them.